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Well Eye Never! City manager's bouncer shows Eye the door.

Public Eye

That's Why I Get the Big Bucks

In the interest of open and honest government, City Manager Del Borgsdorf held a lunchtime meeting for city employees on Monday, Feb. 3, nicknamed "Straight Talk." The meeting gave city employees a chance to call their manager on the carpet over budget woes and potential layoffs. Employees packed the convention center hall, and some were visibly shaking with emotion as they stood at the mic and commented and questioned their top dog. The first question referenced last week's Metro article about whopping pay bonuses for top-cat city officials ("Public Consumption," Jan. 30). The questioner asked which city employees would get laid off first. The answer was, hopefully none. Borgsdorf said he'll wait as long as possible to cut staff, basically to avoid the issue and hope it goes away. Another person wanted to know if Borgsdorf and Mayor Ron Gonzales would take pay cuts. That would be a no at this time. Chris Sarbaugh, who has worked as a city planner for 22 years, questioned the logic of spending $343 million on a new City Hall at the behest of a "lame-duck mayor," who, he said, "is being less than truthful" about money-saving options for the city. In the face of such skepticism about the city's money-management skills and about who will feel the brunt of budget cuts, straight-talking Borgsdorf held his ground. "We're not overstaffed," declared the man who has 12 assistants. "I wasn't the highest-paid," he said at one point. "I make no apology" for the bonuses city officials scored, added Borgsdorf, who says he thinks his $221,732 salary for this fiscal year is "reasonably on the same pay scale" as other city employees. Eye wanted to ask Borgsdorf who exactly got paid more than him, but instead Eye got the heave-ho as soon as the meeting ended. "You really shouldn't have been in here," city spokescop Tom Manheim said after spotting Eye chatting with a disgruntled city worker. Manheim later called Eye to clarify some things.

He explained that saving money is not as simple as halting the City Hall funding, because that project uses bonds that can't be transferred to anything else. As for who makes more money than Borgsdorf, Manheim says some city employees in, say, the fire department rack up more than he does, by way of overtime. But regardless of whether the rank and file see eye-to-eye with city leaders on finances, ultimately, Manheim says, these employee meetings are an important nonpublic forum. "It's really an opportunity for them to get things off their chest and to be very direct," he says. And the meetings are popular. "You can imagine: there's 7,000 employees and only one Del."

Harm's Way

This spring might well mark a turning point in the year-and-a-half-old Jeanine Harms case--the South Bay's highest-profile missing persons' investigation--when the Santa Clara County district attorney's office is expected to come out with its recommendation after a long and careful review. As readers probably know, the 42-year-old Los Gatos woman vanished July 27, 2001, after returning home from a Campbell bar accompanied by Maurice Xavier Nasmeh, a San Jose architect, who says all was well when he left Harms at her apartment at 1am. Harms had gone to the bar to meet up with and give the brushoff to William Alex Wilson III (progeny of a prominent and well-heeled Santa Clara family), who, according to a close friend of Harm's, had been calling constantly and "bugging" Harms before her disappearance. (Wilson showed up late for the date, after Harms had struck up a rapport with Nasmeh.) While both men have been the focus of the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department's exhaustive investigation, neither has been charged with a crime, says Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Capt. Alana Forrest. (Both men were initially cooperative; that quickly stopped after they lawyered up, she says.) The case was turned over to the DA's office in early January because, says Forrest, "We felt we had reached a point in the case where we'd done all the follow-up, all the forensic examination of the evidence and all the interviews we could do at this point." Despite the fact that no new evidence has been uncovered and that Harm's body and missing items from her condo have not been found, the investigators "believe the decision to take the case to the DA was a good one because we have a pretty solid case, strong enough to potentially press charges or go to a grand jury," says Forrest, refusing to name any names. "We hope," she adds," that they'll see the circumstantial evidence we see." (Investigators on the case, which has been a top priority for new Los Gatos-Monte Sereno police chief Scott Seaman, also got help from the San Jose Police Department and the Department of Justice.) "It's been very frustrating," says Los Gatos police investigator Steve Walpole, who's worked the Harm's case since she was first reported missing. "It was time to get another perspective." Santa Clara County Assistant District Attorney Karen Sinunu, who is in charge of the case, was recently handpicked by District Attorney George Kennedy to head up prosecutions for homicide, domestic violence and sexual assault. In an unusual twist, Sinunu has assigned three experts to comb through the case one by one before comparing conclusions: Deputy District Attorneys Mike Gaffey and Ed Fernandez, and herself. "I decided because of the complexity of the case to have experienced professionals review it in a serial fashion so they don't influence each other," she says. "That way you're more likely to pick up details by yourself." After the three confer, they will have four options: press charges, go to a grand jury, send the case to police for more work or decide that the case isn't prosecutable, period. Given that the investigators' report on the 18-month-old case fills three huge binders, the process will take some time, Forrest says. "It'll be March before we get some sort of answer."

Be Mine

On Valentine's Day, San Jose's Redevelopment Agency expects a serious wooing by six coveters of the humongous old Woolworth building on North First Street. Susan Shick, head of the public agency that uses public funding to redo the public's city, is waaaaay too busy to talk to the free weekly's Public Eye. But Eye reached RDA's downtown guru Leslie Little for a check-in. Little says the House of blues remains on the fringe but if a better offer appears it's out. Priorities for the successful proposer include a development that complements existing businesses. Also, the RDA wants to spend the least amount of money on the new tenants. Now we're talking. So, what's the cheapest proposal? "It's really just not that transparent," Little tells Eye. "Not everybody looked at the building the same way. Some people looked at the building as something to purchase. Some people looked at the building as something to lease. It's really hard to compare apples to apples."

Bad News Bearer

Rumors and bets about whether Mayor Gonzo's Budget Strongman Joe Guerra will soon bolt have resurfaced recently. The loose talk first arose two years ago, about when and how (but not if) he'd bail on his (currently six-figure) staff position. But Guerra tells Eye he isn't prowling for a new gig. One insider suggests City Hallsters are probably just wishfully thinking because Guerra has the popularity quotient of Carrot Top (from the 1-800-call-ATT commercials), and as Budget Guy in a Budget Crisis, he'd make a fine sacrificial lamb. "I think that the reality is that, in my position, I'm often the bearer of bad news," Guerra notes soberly, explaining why anyone might feel bitterness toward his bad self. But he's staying put, as far as he knows. After all, who'd want to leave poor Gonzo in San Jose's darkest hour, what with a budget shortfall that "doubled overnight" to $120 million after mean old "Gov. Davis announced his plans to take vehicle-license-fee revenues and other resources from California cities," as Gonzo's office sobbed in a Jan. 31 press release? Actually, a couple of people found this the exact perfect time to flee. Former deputy dawg Dustin Derollo abandoned his post last month to take a job with Sacramento-based lobbying firm Platinum Advisors, where he could act as a liaison between the city and the state. Derollo simply luvved working with Gonzales, he tells Eye, who can now see that he practically had to be dragged out of there kicking and screaming. Ditto for Jason Helgerson, who's held a position as the mayor's senior education policy adviser for a big year and a half but just scored a top perch working with new Gov. Jim Doyle as the executive assistant with the Department of Revenue in his home state of Wisconsin. (It's been 16 years without a Democratic governor in Wisconsin, so lefties in the other cheese capital are crazy happy.) As for Gonzo and his remaining staff, "We're tickled that he's making such a great move," says David Vossbrink, who did not sound as if he was suppressing laughter. "He's leaving us on excellent terms."

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From the February 6-12, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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